Wednesday 24 January 2018

I could have stopped Iraq invasion -- Straw

David Brown in London

FORMER British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw supported the Iraq war only "very reluctantly", he said yesterday, and admitted he knew that he could have stopped Tony Blair going ahead with his intention of joining the US invasion.

Mr Straw said he warned the prime minister that it would be illegal simply to overthrow Saddam Hussein and pressed for the United Nations to resolve the crisis peacefully.

He told the Iraq inquiry that he had presented Mr Blair with an alternative plan on the eve of the crucial Commons' vote on war that did not involve committing British troops.

Mr Straw repeatedly appeared to suggest that his hopes of avoiding war were at odds with those of Mr Blair, who wanted a large British force to join the invasion.

The justice secretary said that the government was haunted by an error in an intelligence document that said Saddam could deploy weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes. The most senior politician yet to face the inquiry expressed "deep regret" about the war and acknowledged that if he had refused to support the invasion Mr Blair would have been unable to carry the government or parliament.

"I was fully aware that my support for military action was critical," he said.

"If I had refused that, the UK's participation in the military action would not in practice have been possible."

He described his decision to back military action in March 2003 as "the most difficult I have ever faced in my life", which posed a "moral as well as political dilemma".

He had agonised over a decision to vote for invasion at a cabinet meeting. He had discussions with Gordon Brown and Robin Cook, his predecessor as foreign secretary, who resigned as leader of the House.

Pressed on whether he had considered leaving the Cabinet, Mr Straw replied: "Did I ever think, 'I'm going to resign over this'? No, I didn't."

He confirmed that he had drawn up contingency plans in case the government lost the Commons' vote, making British participation impossible.

They included offering the US intelligence and logistics support as well as the use of the air base on the British Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia. "I prepared a paper for Mr Blair - I talked to him about it," he said.

Throughout his three hours of evidence and in a 25-page memorandum, Mr Straw emphasised that he hoped the crisis could be resolved peacefully. (© The Times, London)

Irish Independent

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